How can we figure out what to think about the big issues of spiritual import?
We can get into dialogue with others, and listen to them. We can hear their stories, and let those stories move us and mold and form our thinking. We can get a broader sample by reading bios, looking at polls, reading the mainstream media. We can embrace their questions and their rationales and their hierarchies, let them set the agenda for the endeavor.
We can sample this and that "faith-tradition," as broadly as we care to do. See what other men and women have done with it in the name of religion. If it important to us to be seen as (or to see ourselves as) cosmopolitan, we can search the world over 'till we think we find true love.
Then, once we've formed what feels right, what makes sense, what appeals, what best suits us — then, I say, we can launch, journey, and arrive.
Or we can be Christians.
While you're either looking for me to qualify that antithesis, or preparing to demand that I do so, let me just double-down by insisting that I mean exactly what I say. Thinking like a Christian, and thinking like anything else, are two fundamentally distinct processes. They are as different as night and day, and as irreconcilable as left and right.
There are fundamentally two ways to approach any concept, and only two. We can start with God and His Word, or we can start somewhere else; and the "somewhere else" usually boils down to ourselves. This is a philosophical methodology of ancient coinage.
My text here — one of many possible — is Proverbs 1:7.
The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge;"Beginning" here can mean several things. I bat this around in my book on Proverbs, and explain that I think it means beginning in the sense of starting-place. It is the starting-place not in that we check the box and move on, but in the sense that, if we don't start with the fear of Yahweh, we won't get anywhere in knowledge or wisdom. I liken it to the alphabet. You don't get anywhere with reading without knowing the alphabet; but, having started with the alphabet, you never discard it. You use it constantly, because it permeates all you do when you read.
Wisdom and discipline, dense people belittle. (DJP)
So likewise the fear of Yahweh is the starting-place of knowledge, and of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). We start there, or we get nowhere. And, having started there, we never leave it, because it permeates every thought and every chain of reasoning.
It would help to gain a more precise grip of what fear of Yahweh means, then. It has little to do with emotion, or with vapory notions of a mystical awe. Most frequently we find it in a pretty concrete sense in the OT. Kidner well says that is the fear of Yahweh is “that filial relationship which, in the most positive of senses, puts us securely in our place, and God in His” (on Nehemiah 9:32, in Ezra & Nehemiah [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1979], 113).
The fear of Yahweh is a mindframe that reverses Genesis 3, in effect. Eve was motivated by self-concern. The repentant believer is motivated by God-concern (cf. Deuteronomy 6:5ff.). Eve decided to test God's Word by her judgment and experience. The repentant believer tests his judgment and experience by God's Word.
So when the first sort of person we discussed finds that he, or many people, are repulsed by a concept affirmed in the Bible, he's all aflutter to appease the crowd or himself. He is greatly moved by reports (or sensations) of being repulsed, turned off, devastated, psychologically crushed, terrified or traumatized by that Biblical tenet. He'll go to great lengths to quiet those negative feelings or reactions; if the Bible doesn't yield peaceably, so much the worse for it.
By stark contrast, the second sort views the lot and says, "So? What of it?" He has abdicated the throne, and he doesn't forget it. God is Lord of his thinking. His first question is not "How do I feel about this?" nor "How do others feel about this?" His first question is "What does God say about this?"
Perhaps another way of seeing it is in what moves, when push comes to shove. The first sort of person, confronted with uncongenial truths in the Bible, will ignore them, deny them, question them, fiddle with them, redefine them to oblivion, or otherwise sweep them under the rug. In his case, it is no questions: the truths are what must be moved.
The second sort, finding himself in the same situation, will confront his feelings and his prejudices and his ignorance. He will regard these as enemies to be repented of and dealt death to and disowned — not precious jewels to be adored and displayed.
It is, in a blunt word, the difference between a rebel and a slave.
Or, put another way, it is the difference between Heaven and Hell.